Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

April 28, 2006

How to “solve” the “energy crisis”

Filed under: — Different River @ 1:40 am

It seems everybody is asking what President Bush is going to do about the energy crises. For example, is he going to develop alternative fuels? Now Bush is not a scientist or an engineer, so they don’t really expect him to develop anything. What they really mean is, is he going to put your tax dollars into research on alternative fuels?

Perhaps it never occurs to anyone that it’s not the President’s job to finance alternative fuels with other people’s money, any more than it’s his job to develop the fuels himself in a lab in the basement of the White House.

But Don Boudreaux reports on whose job it really is — and they’re doing it:

This story ran yesterday on NPR’s Morning Edition. It reports on Andrew Perlman, a young entrepreneur in Illinois who is working feverishly to find ways to convert coal into clean natural gas.

My favorite line in this story is the one in which Perlman says that just a few years ago there were only three venture-capital firms focused on energy companies; today there are 76 such VC firms. So much money seeking ways to find new sources of energy!

Those entrepreneurs and investors who succeed will become fabulously rich; those who fail will be poorer than they would have been had they not entered the quest.

And those of us who do nothing but freely choose which fuels to purchase will benefit enormously.

I love this market process. People such as me — people who lack even a whiff of creativity, people who are terribly risk-averse, people who lazily prefer to read novels and work at secure jobs and spend our evenings at home dining and drinking with family and friends — just sit back and wait for profit-hungry hard-working anxiety-ridden creative entrepreneurs, each in competition with others, to find new ways to improve our lives. And we don’t even have to accept what they devise. If we like it, we buy it. If not, we don’t buy it.

I almost feel like a free-rider, a lazy bum, a poacher. I do nothing entrepreneurial, and yet my daily life is filled with the marvelous fruits of entrepreneurial creativity and effort. It’s an incredibly good deal.

I suppose this sould be a good time to point out, as Julian Simon did, that when there are more people around, there are more creative people, so it’s more likely that someone, somewhere, will be able to solve any given problem.

The question is, is our population big enough to generate a solution to the energy crises?

Boycott “Big Water”!

Filed under: — Different River @ 1:27 am

If you think the “price gouging” of gasoline is bad, compare it to this:

A gallon of gas is $2.82 down the street. A bottle of water at my local movie theater is $3.50 — a half-liter bottle. If a gallon is approximately four liters (3.78, according to Google), then water is $14/gallon at the movies.

People still pay $1 for a half-liter bottle of water at soda machines. They still pick up the 79-cent half-liter at Publix or Kroger. And they’d rather spend $3.50 for a half-liter of soda than $4.50 for a massive cup of Coke or Pepsi — which usually holds about 3/4 liters, and free refills usually are a part of largest-size options.

Yet there’s no outrage at Coke (Dasani), Pepsi (Aquafina), ZephyrHills, Dannon/Nestle, or any of the other companies. In fact, we gladly purchase bottled water at jacked-up retail prices.

And water doesn’t even need to be refined!

April 26, 2006

Let the Iraqis Vote — on whether American Troops stay

Filed under: — Different River @ 10:50 pm

Jonah Goldberg of National Review Online has a brilliant idea:

Let’s let the Iraqi people vote on whether American troops should stay in Iraq.

President Bush has said that if a democratically elected government of Iraq asked us to leave, we would. I think Bush is sincere, but the truth is that no Iraqi government is going to ask U.S. troops to withdraw anytime soon, because American troops are the only thing holding the country together.

The Iraqi people understand this, too. In the town of Talafar, for example, American troops are keeping Iraqi factions from killing each other. Sheik Abdullah Al Yawar, a leading Sunni in the province, recently told The New Republic‘s Lawrence Kaplan that if U.S. soldiers withdraw, “there will be rivers of blood.” The Atlantic Monthly‘s Robert Kaplan (no relation) recently wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “My most recent searing, first-hand impression of Iraq, from last December, is this one: one town and village after another getting back on its feet, with residents telling American troops not to leave.”

This is the linchpin to my idea. Having Iraqis vote on the continued presence of American troops is not some starry-eyed affair. It depends as much on fear as it does on hope.

Right now, various factions within Iraq decry the “occupation” knowing full well that American troops aren’t going anywhere — and that Iraqis don’t want them to. This injects poison directly into the political climate. Politicians who take the reasonable and realistic position that American troops should stay can be outflanked by demagogues claiming to be the greater patriots and nationalists. Murderers pretend to be the authentic voice of Iraqis and Muslims, and the European and Arab press are keen to give this storyline a “fair” hearing.

Even here at home, critics of the war have come to paint Iraq as an entirely cynical and gloomy affair, launched on fraudulent rationales and continued out of hubris. Ted Kennedy calls it an “occupation,” and his crowd snickers at the idea that democracy has anything to do with the enterprise.

An Iraqi referendum would counter all of that. A national debate in Iraq over the continued presence of American troops would force many Iraqis to stop taking our protection for granted. Not everyone there craves democracy, but very few of them relish the idea of a civil war. Politicians, now invested in the survival of the political system, would be forced to take the responsible position if they wanted to keep their jobs. Indeed, rhetoric and interests would converge nicely for the first time in a while. Some would undoubtedly campaign for American withdrawal, but this would probably marginalize them and show the whole world where the hearts of Iraqis really lie.

But what if it failed? What if the Iraqis voted to kick us out? … I’d hate to see that happen. But I can’t think of a more honorable way for America to withdraw from Iraq and to prove it respects democracy. America won’t bow to bullets and bombs — but it will to ballots.

Brilliant all around — both on practical and principle grounds.

April 21, 2006

Bad Gas Economics

Filed under: — Different River @ 3:08 pm

I was recently sent an e-mail which is apparently circulating around the internet asking everyone to stop buying gas from Exxon-Mobil. (Exxon and Mobil merged a few years ago and are now the same company.) This is, supposedly, a sure-fire way to force gas prices down. The claim is:

By now you’re probably thinking gasoline priced at about $1.50 is super cheap. Me too! It is currently $2.79 for regular unleaded in my town. Now that the oil companies and the OPEC nations have conditioned us to think that the cost of a gallon of gas is CHEAP at $1.50 – $1.75, we need to take aggressive action to teach them that BUYERS control the marketplace..not sellers. With the price of gasoline going up more each day, we consumers need to take action. The only way we are going to see the price of gas come down is if we hit someone in the pocketbook by not purchasing their gas! And, we can do that WITHOUT hurting ourselves.

How? Force a Price War. That’s right. A Price War.

Since we all rely on our cars, we can’t just stop buying gas. Not ALL gas, anyway. But we can stop buying a PARTICULAR gas. Do you see where this is going?

Here’s the idea: For the rest of this year, DON’T purchase ANY gasoline from the two biggest companies (which now are one), EXXON and MOBIL. From there it’s simple Economics 101: If they are not selling any gas, they will be inclined to reduce their prices. If they reduce their prices, the other companies will have to follow suit, because if the price is right, we’ll start buying the cheaper gas. Get it?!

Sorry, but that’s not “simple Economics 101.” I know — I’ve taught “Economics 101″ (only now it’s called “Principles of Microeconomics — but I digress).

Their “theory” is that by reducing demand for Exxon/Mobil gas, Exxon/Mobil will have to cut their prices. But if everybody switching all their gas purchases to other companies, there would be MORE demand for OTHER companies’ gas, so by exactly the same logic, the other companies will RAISE their prices.

And even if enough people did this long enough to force Exxon/Mobil to lower their prices, the other companies would NOT have to match — because the other companies are selling more gas than every at the higher prices because of this e-mail.

The author of this “plan” seems to think that there is some outside factor that forces gas companies to lower their prices when other gas companies lower theirs. But in truth, companies have to match competitors’ lower prices ONLY when they are losing sales by having higher prices. If this plan is implemented, the other gas companies will not be losing sales, because the whole point of this “boycott” is to get people to buy gas from these other companies “for the rest of the year,” even when their prices are higher. The boycott of one company is, by its very nature, self-defeating.

The “magic factor” that forces companies to match competitors’ lower prices is the fact that customers will go and buy from the companies with lower prices. In other words: If, by some miracle, everybody in the U.S. refused to buy from Exxon-Mobil, and Exxon-Mobil saw this drop in demand and lowered their prices, then the other companies would see an increase in demand and raise their prices. As long as the “boycott” of Exxon-Mobil continued, there would be absolutely no reason for the other companies to lower their prices to match Exxon-Mobil’s lower prices — since the other companies wouldn’t be losing sales to Exxon-Mobil because of the “boycott.”

And this situation would continue until either (a) customers saw the lower prices at Exxon-Mobil and started buying from them, causing the situation to revert bag to what it would have been without the boycott, or (b) the other companies will buy and refine more oil to meet their higher demand, and Exxon-Mobil would stop buying and refining oil to avoid having their inventory pile up, with the result that the same amount of gas is sold, and at the same prices, as otherwise would have sold — just through different gas stations. If somehow this boycott persisted over time, then eventually, Exxon-Mobil would eventually either sell oil and gasoline to other companies, or would change the signs on their gas stations, or would sell their retail gas stations to other companies, and become a wholesaler.

In short, there is absolutely no reason that this strategy would reduce gas prices — even if they succeeded in getting everyone to boycott Exxon-Mobil. Which they wouldn’t anyway — since as soon as Exxon-Mobil’s price started to drop, people would switch over to buying from them, and their price would go back up to what it was before.

I don’t know who wrote that e-mail, but I highly doubt they learned it in “Economics 101.” If that’s what they think they learned, then they should have flunked.

Why the Left is Soft on Terrorism

Filed under: — Different River @ 12:28 pm

Reuters reports:

The Transportation Security Administration has warned aircraft owners and airport managers that Muslim extremists may be targeting private American jets and urged them to boost security.

“On April 13, 2006, a message posted in Arabic on an Internet forum explained how to identify private American jets and urged Muslims to destroy all such aircraft,” the TSA said in an advisory issued on Thursday and obtained by Reuters on Friday.

The TSA quoted the Arabic message as saying: “We call upon all Muslims to follow and identify private civilian American aircrafts in all airports of the world.”

“It is the duty of Muslims to destroy all types of private American aircraft that are of the types Gulfstream and Lear Jet and all small aircraft usually used by distinguished (people) and businessmen,”
it quoted the message as saying.

Perhaps that’s why the Left is ambivalent (or worse) about the war on terror — the terrorists are targeting wealthy capitalists!

April 12, 2006

Blogging Hiatus

Filed under: — Different River @ 6:00 pm

I’m off the computer for the next few days for the first few days of Passover. See you back here Sunday or Monday. Chag Sameach!

UPDATE (4/18/06):

Blogging hiatus extended … Plenty of stuff to write, just no time to write it. See you Friday or Sunday…. Chag Sameach!

April 11, 2006

Can You Qualify for a Mortgage?

Filed under: — Different River @ 1:51 pm

Who can’t? A number of people have asked me lately how it’s possible to qualify for a mortgage when the payments are higher than your income. Well, don’t ask me, ask the people who gave Johnny Moon, Sr. six mortgages:

After struggling much of his adult life with unemployment, homelessness and drug addiction, Johnny Moon Sr. died last year on a dirty mattress on the floor of a small home near Tampa’s College Hill district.

Moon, who looked far older than his 56 years, died of pneumonia brought on by malnutrition. He left behind a watch, a flashlight and a wallet containing a solitary dollar bill.

And more than a half-million dollars worth of real estate.

Among the four properties Moon bought in November 2003 was a white frame home at 2714 12th St. N in Ybor City. …

Records show Moon bought the 12th Street property from Dam’s trust for $147,000 – triple what the county property appraiser said it was worth – and paid for it with a $147,000 mortgage loan.

The Federal National Mortgage Association, commonly called Fannie Mae, ended up with the home after Moon died and the loan went into foreclosure. For Fannie Mae, the loan has become a loser.

The lender’s representatives discovered the 86-year-old home with the tin roof has leaks, flooring problems, no sink in the bathroom and no kitchen. As is, it is uninhabitable. The home is listed at $88,500, but so far, no takers.


In November 2002, Moon Sr. signed for an $85,000 loan to buy the home at 2204 E Chipco St.

Six days later, Moon was arrested at a Publix supermarket on Nebraska Avenue after stuffing packages of razor blades, Tylenol and Advil tablets into his pocket and trying to leave without paying. He was charged with petty theft.

Moon pleaded no contest to the $26.69 theft and got 60 days in jail and six months’ probation.

Probation records show he reported receiving $108 a month in food stamps and $555 a month from Supplemental Security Income – a form of disability income generally available to people owning less than $2,000 in property.

A few months after being released and reporting that meager income, Moon Sr. signed for four mortgage loans, totaling $529,300, to buy four more properties. The four purchases occurred in a two- week period.

He somehow got himself to all four closings, records show, and presented a Florida driver’s license as identification, though the state had revoked his license indefinitely during the 1990s when he was classified as a habitual traffic offender.

Two weeks after Moon Sr.’s flurry of purchases, Moon Jr. and Ferrara paid $53,000 for a two-bedroom home with a fenced yard at 3309 E Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

In July 2005, Moon Sr.’s body was found in one of the back bedrooms there.

Five months after the death, Moon Jr. and Ferrara sold the small home for $98,000 – $45,000 more than they paid for it.

Of course, some suspect mortgage fraud here. But aren’t the lenders supposed verify things like employment, run credit checks, and that sort of thing?

If you were lending someone thousands of dollars, wouldn’t you?

(Hat tip: The Housing Bubble)

Durham D.A. Will Prosecute Anyway

Filed under: — Different River @ 12:53 pm

Despite that fact that DNA evidence seems to have exonerated the Duke lacrosse players, the Durham Country District Attorney says he’s going to prosecute them anyway:

DURHAM, N.C. (AP) — Durham County’s chief prosecutor said Tuesday he will not abandon his investigation of allegations that an exotic dancer was raped and beaten at a party thrown by members of Duke University’s lacrosse team.

“A lot has been said in the press, particularly by some attorneys yesterday, that this case should go away,” District Attorney Mike Nifong said at a community forum. “My presence here means that this case is not going away.”

On Monday, attorneys representing members of the lacrosse team said DNA from the 46 players tested did not match evidence collected from the woman who says she was raped.

“No DNA from any young man tested was found anywhere on or about this woman,” defense attorney Wade Smith said Monday.

Nifong appears to be grandstanding:

Nifong, who has said he doesn’t necessarily need DNA evidence to prosecute, was calmly defiant at Tuesday’s forum, attended by about 700 people on the campus of North Carolina Central University, the historically black university a few miles from Duke where the alleged victim is a student.

“The fact is that this case is proceeding the way a case should proceed,” Nifong said to applause from the crowd.

I mean really: Is a D.A. supposed to go out on stage to tell a cheering crowd, “never mind the evidence, the prosecution is going forward”? This is starting to sound like a lynching.

And Nifong’s logic seems to be a bit faulty:

“DNA results can often be helpful, but you know, I’ve been doing this a long time, and for most of the years I’ve been doing this we didn’t have DNA,” he said. “We had to deal with sexual assault cases the good old fashioned way. Witnesses got on the stand and told what happened to them.”

Yes, before DNA evidence technology was available, they had to do prosecutions other ways. But that doesn’t mean that now that we have that technology, if the DNA test comes out the wrong way, you can just ignore it. As I said before, DNA evidence cuts both ways. The woman claims she was beaten up and raped in a certain bathroom, which would have left blood, hair, or at least skin cells of hers in the bathroom. But there is no evidence of her DNA anywhere in the bathroom. She claims she struggled and clawed at the attackers with her fingernails, but there was no DNA from their skin under her fingernails. She claims she was raped by three men, for half an hour, vaginally, anally, and orally. Yet there is no semen, nor blood, nor skin cells, not hair from any of them, anywhere on or in her body. She was examined right after the alleged incident, in an emergency room, by a specialized forensic sexual assault nurse — someone specifically trained to collect DNA evidence in rape cases. If there was a rape, there would be evidence of it — and everything about the case indicates they would have found it if it were there.

But none of this matters. In fact, some people here are violating the principles they hold inviolable in other cases — what I call syllogistic hypocrisy:

“There’s an old saying that the absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence,” said Peter Neufeld, co-founder and co-director of the Innocence Project, a nonprofit legal clinic.

But Neufeld bases his entire career at The Innocence Project on exonerating people — in his case, death-row inmates — on the basis of the absence of DNA evidence. As the project’s web site explains:

Most of our clients are poor, forgotten, and have used up all of their legal avenues for relief. The hope they all have is that biological evidence from their cases still exists and can be subjected to DNA testing. All Innocence Project clients go through an extensive screening process to determine whether or not DNA testing of evidence could prove their claims of innocence. Thousands currently await our evaluation of their cases.

DNA testing has been a major factor in changing the criminal justice system. It has provided scientific proof that our system convicts and sentences innocent people — and that wrongful convictions are not isolated or rare events. Most importantly, DNA testing has opened a window into wrongful convictions so that we may study the causes and propose remedies that may minimize the chances that more innocent people are convicted.

And they claim to have exonerated 175 people, including 14 sentenced to death. Indeed, the first goal in The Innocent Project’s mission statement is:

The Innocence Project’s mission:

  • Achieve the exoneration and release of factually innocent inmates through postconviction DNA testing

Oh wait, “postconviction.” So does that mean Neufeld wants the lacrosse players to be convicted first, before DNA evidence is considered? Maybe that wouldn’t even qualify them, since they are not thought to be “poor and forgotten.” (They go to Duke, an expensive school — so even if they are on scholarship I guess tehy are rich-by-association. And they aren’t forgotten; they’re in the news every day.)

As for Neufeld’s logic — that the absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence,” that may be true in general, but in a case where the nature of the crime is to leave DNA evidence, and there isn’t any, that’s pretty persuasive “evidence of absence.” And in any case, “absence of evidence” is not “presence of evidence,” which is what Neufield seems to be implying.

The “Straw man of presumed innocence”

Filed under: — Different River @ 11:45 am

Here’s a small sample of the unbelievable idiocy of the politics of the Duke lacrosse incident. This from a Duke faculty member:

Racism doesn’t require DNA testing

Deborah Sebring

I don’t get it. What does DNA have to do with racism, misogyny, serving alcohol to minors or blatant disrespect for one’s community? Just for a minute, forget about DNA testing or even the question of rape. There are established and profoundly disturbing dimensions of this incident being effectively shielded by the straw man of protecting the presumed innocent. By now we’ve all heard the 911 tape and read a neighbor’s confirmation of racial epithets hurled that night. Not much question about that one. And I am sick to death or hearing the alleged victim-a young black woman, student, mother-summarily referenced only as an “exotic dancer” while a mob of drunk, out of control men is described as the “the highly successful men’s lacrosse team.”

The “straw man of protecting the presumed innocent”? Does she prefer that there would be a presumption of guilt, rather than of innocence? What if the races were reversed — suppose a white woman accused a bunch of black athletes of raping her. Would that have “disturbing dimensions … shielded by the straw man of protecting the presumed innocent”? Would she presume guilt in that case? Would she want to “forget about DNA testing” that might exonerate black athletes of charges of raping a white woman?

Or does the presumption of innocence apply only in certain circumstances, based on the race of the alleged victim and the alleged perpetrators?

(La Shawn Barber has some thoughts along similar lines.)

Is Global Warming Real?

Filed under: — Different River @ 6:00 am

A bunch of recent news stories and editorials lately are saying that “global warming is real” and a recent survey shows that 71% of Americans believe it.

Apparently, they aren’t listening to the climate scientists, who do not believe it.

The latest salvo from the scientists is an open letter signed by sixty climate scientists from around the world, addressed to the new Canadian Prime Minister asking him to revisit Canada’s climate-change plicy in general and the Kyoto protocol in particular. The letter says in part:

Observational evidence does not support today’s computer climate models, so there is little reason to trust model predictions of the future. Yet this is precisely what the United Nations did in creating and promoting Kyoto and still does in the alarmist forecasts on which Canada’s climate policies are based. Even if the climate models were realistic, the environmental impact of Canada delaying implementation of Kyoto or other greenhouse-gas reduction schemes, pending completion of consultations, would be insignificant. Directing your government to convene balanced, open hearings as soon as possible would be a most prudent and responsible course of action.

While the confident pronouncements of scientifically unqualified environmental groups may provide for sensational headlines, they are no basis for mature policy formulation. The study of global climate change is, as you have said, an “emerging science,” one that is perhaps the most complex ever tackled. It may be many years yet before we properly understand the Earth’s climate system. Nevertheless, significant advances have been made since the protocol was created, many of which are taking us away from a concern about increasing greenhouse gases. If, back in the mid-1990s, we knew what we know today about climate, Kyoto would almost certainly not exist, because we would have concluded it was not necessary.

“Climate change is real” is a meaningless phrase used repeatedly by activists to convince the public that a climate catastrophe is looming and humanity is the cause. Neither of these fears is justified. Global climate changes all the time due to natural causes and the human impact still remains impossible to distinguish from this natural “noise.” The new Canadian government’s commitment to reducing air, land and water pollution is commendable, but allocating funds to “stopping climate change” would be irrational. We need to continue intensive research into the real causes of climate change and help our most vulnerable citizens adapt to whatever nature throws at us next.

We believe the Canadian public and government decision-makers need and deserve to hear the whole story concerning this very complex issue. It was only 30 years ago that many of today’s global-warming alarmists were telling us that the world was in the midst of a global-cooling catastrophe. But the science continued to evolve, and still does, even though so many choose to ignore it when it does not fit with predetermined political agendas.

Take a look at the full letter, and the list of signatories. It’s a quite impressive list.

Somebody’s got some ‘splaining to do!

Filed under: — Different River @ 3:42 am

So, nearly the entire Duke mens’ varsity lacrosse team was accused of raping a woman — or more precisely, 46 out of 47 players were accuesed of being among the three to rape this particular woman. As a punishment, a few games, and then the rest of their season was cancelled (that is, forfeited), their coach resigned (was he fired?) even thought he wasn’t even there when it (allegedly) happened, protests and vigils were held all over campus, and there were ugly allegations of a racist conspiracy from the race hustlers both on and off campus, since the alleged rapers were white and the alleged rapee was black. Never mind how it could be racist when practically no one was supporting the accused players; in fact, all 46 were regarded as guilty even though they woman only claimed that 3 of the 46 touched her.

Then, there were some inconsistencies in the timing of the alleged events.

And now it turns out none did. The DNA tests have come in, and not a trace of even a single player’s DNA was found anywhere on the woman’s body.

Furthermore — get this — there was no DNA of the victim in the room where the alleged rape was supposed to have occurred. And there was no DNA of anyone else either — in fact, the test results indicated the alleged victim had not had any kind of sexual contact with anyone in the recent past.

Now, let’s see if the candlelight vigils are cancelled, and if anyone apologizes to the team. I’m not holding my breath — in fact, the DA says he’s still going to prosecute!

District Attorney Mike Nifong has said he would have other evidence to make his case should the DNA analysis prove inconclusive or fail to match a member of the team.

“I believe a sexual assault took place,” Nifong told The News & Observer of Raleigh on Monday. “I’m not saying it’s over. If that’s what they expect, they will be sadly disappointed.”

He would not comment about the results to the AP.

Earlier he said that they used to prove rape cases before there was such a thing as DNA evidence, so if the DNA evidence didn’t match, he’d just prove it the old way — you know, “he said, she said, she wins.” The trouble is, he doesn’t seem to realize that DNA evidence works both ways — it’s more or less impossible to commit a rape without leaving DNA evidence. The fact that it’s not there is as close as you’ll ever get to proof that the crime did not occur.

Meanwhile, someone has soem explaining to do. That’s because the state crime lab said, based on evidence taken from her body at the emergency room, that there was no evidence the alleged victim was raped at all. Yet, according to a warrant sworn out by the police,

A Forensic Sexual Assault Nurse (SANE) and Physician conducted the examination. Medical records and interview that were obtained by subpoena revealed that the victim had signs, symptoms, and injuries consistent with being raped and ….

(If you want the gory details, look here. This is a family blog!)

The bottom line is, either this is the most incompetent state crime lab imaginable, or someone somewhere between the emergency room and the police department is blatantly lying. And it looks like the latter.

Now here’s something really interesting — the world champion of DNA evidence is Peter Neufeld of “The Innocence Project,” which searches the entire country for death penalty defendants who can be exonerated by DNA evidence. They keep hoping that they’ll find someone who’s been executed who can be proven innocent, so they can get rid of the death penalty, but so far they’ve just found some people who haven’t been executed yet, and gotten them off death row. They claim that DNA is the best way to prove innocence. Or at least, when the defendant is a non-white on death row. When the defendants are white scholarship athletes at an elite college, suddenly DNA isn’t so useful anymore:

“The truth is if you speak to crime lab directors, they will tell you that in only a relatively small number of cases is there any DNA evidence,” said Peter Neufeld, co-founder of the Innocence Project.

I’ve been a cautious supporter of The Innocence Project in the past, because like any decent person, I really, really don’t want to see innocent people punished. But their hope of finding an innocent person who’s already been executed ahs always struck me as kind of creepy — clearly, they care more about the principle that the death penalty is bad than they do about the welfare of innocent people wrongfully convicted. But now we find out that it’s only if those innocent people are the right sort of innocent people.

La Shawn Barber has more long-term perspective.

April 7, 2006

San Francisco’s Nullification Declaration

Filed under: — Different River @ 2:50 pm

In 1832, the state of South Carolina passed an Ordinance of Nullification declaring that certain federal tariff laws were “null, void, and no law, nor binding upon this State, its officers, or citizens.” Thus began the first major effort to enforce the doctrine of nullification, originally promulated by Virginia and Kentucky in 1799, according to which a state ought to be able to declare an act of Congress null and void if the state believes that act to be unconstitutional.

Now San Francisco is trying the same thing — only without bothering to claim that the act they are threatening to nullify is actually unconstitutional. Justin Jouvenal of the Baltimore Examiner reports:

SAN FRANCISCO – Mayor Gavin Newsom said Thursday that The City will not comply with any federal legislation that criminalizes efforts to help illegal immigrants.

The mayor also denounced a bipartisan congressional proposal that would beef up border security and allow as many as 12 million illegal immigrants to gain legal status.

Newsom, who has not been afraid to wade into controversial national issues such as gay marriage, appeared with a group of elected officials on the steps of City Hall to support immigrants, “documented as well as undocumented.” Newsom also signed a resolution sponsored by Supervisor Gerardo Sandoval, and passed unanimously by the Board of Supervisors, urging San Francisco law enforcement not to comply with criminal provisions of any new immigration bill.

If you read that carefully, Newsom seems to be both opposed to enforcing the laws against illegal immigration, and opposed to amnesty which would make the illegal immigrants legal. In other words, he is in favor of illegal immigration, but opposed to legal immigration!

Putting aside the idiocy of Newsom’s position — and putting aside what you or I actually think of the various immigration reform proposals, it should be clear that nullification of federal immigration laws by cities is a bad thing. By doing so, a city in effect denies that the United States is a sovereign entity, and arrogates that status to the itself. Yet, the Constitution clearly grants the power to control international borders to the federal government. That provision should not be treated lightly.

After all, if San Francisco can defy federal law to allow federally-illegal immigrants in, then surely some other city could defy federal law to keep federally-legal immigrants out. In fact, another city could potentially bar U.S. citizens from entering that city. Maybe Dallas could pass a law barring the entry of U.S. citizens from San Francisco. After all, if cities control their borders, why not?

UPDATE:

South Carolina’s Nullification Ordnance of 1832 lead ultimately to the secession of South Carolina, then the secession of 10 other states and the Civil War to get them all back into the Union.

The response to San Francisco’s nullification is basically the opposite: Clayton Cramer asks, “Can We Expel San Francisco From The Union?

Apparently, some San Francisco folks have already proposed just that. There was a column in the San Francisco Chronicle three years ago with that proposal. And, some want to call the new country the Free State of San Francisco. I wonder why they’d want to keep the obviously Catholic name, given their recent legislation on Catholicism.

Clean Air Causes Global Warming?

Filed under: — Different River @ 1:09 pm

Well, you can’t win for losing, if this study reported by the BBC has any truth to it:

Research presented at a major European science meeting adds to other evidence that cleaner air is letting more solar energy through to the Earth’s surface.

The decline in Soviet industry and clean air laws in western countries apparently reduced concentrations of aerosols, tiny particles, in the atmosphere.

These aerosols may block solar radiation directly, or help clouds to form which in turn constitute a barrier; or both effects may occur.

So there you have it: If we increase pollution, we cause global warming — and if we decrease pollution we also cause global warming. And as I’ve pointed out before, higher temperatures are evidence of global warming, and lower temperatures are also evidence of global warming. This is how we know that global warming is not really a scientific theory — a scientific theory has to be subject to evidence. That is, it need to make “falsifiable predictions” — predictions that, if contradicted, would be regarded as evidence against the theory. If any possible outcome can be viewed as consistent with the theory, then it’s not really a theory since it doesn’t explain anything.

The BBC article also had the following interesting tidbit:

Between the 1950s and 1980s, the amount of solar energy penetrating through the atmosphere to the Earth’s surface appeared to be declining, by about 2% per decade.

This trend received some publicity under the term “global dimming.”

It was also called “the New Ice Age.” I’m just old enough to remember reading in the mid-1970s in elementary school — in the Weekly Reader distributed in over 90% of American elementary schools — that the burning of fossil fuels was causing pollution that would eventually block out enough of the sun’s rays to cause a “New Ice Age.”

In retrospect, this must have come about from the research of Dr. Murray Mitchell, and reported in the famous article Peter Gwynne wrote in Newsweek in 1975 – i “The Cooling World” (excerpted here):

The central fact is that after three quarters of a century of extraordinarily mild conditions, the earth’s climate seems to be cooling down. Meteorologists disagree about the cause and extent of the cooling trend, as well as over its specific impact on local weather conditions. But they are almost unanimous in the view that the trend will reduce agricultural productivity for the rest of the century. If the climatic change is as profound as some of the pessimists fear, the resulting famines could be catastrophic. “A major climatic change would force economic and social adjustments on a worldwide scale,” warns a recent report by the National Academy of Sciences, “because the global patterns of food production and population that have evolved are implicitly dependent on the climate of the present century.”

A survey completed last year by Dr. Murray Mitchell of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reveals a drop of half a degree in average ground temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere between 1945 and 1968. According to George Kukla of Columbia University, satellite photos indicated a sudden, large increase in Northern Hemisphere snow cover in the winter of 1971-72. And a study released last month by two NOAA scientists notes that the amount of sunshine reaching the ground in the continental U.S. diminished by 1.3% between 1964 and 1972.

The BBC article on the more recent research quotes the lead author as follows:

The reversal of “global dimming” has been proposed in some circles as an alternative explanation for climatic change, removing the need to invoke human emissions of greenhouse gases.

Dr[. Martin] Wild dismissed this picture. [We can't have anything contradicting the theory of human-caused global warming, now, can we? --DR] His analysis suggests that “global dimming” and the man-made greenhouse effect may have cancelled each other out until the early 1980s, but now “global brightening” is adding to the impact of human greenhouse emissions.

So if I understand this correctly: we used to have high levels of pollution, which caused both a decrease in sunlight penetrating the atmosphere (“global dimming”), and an increase in heat retained in the atmosphere (“global warming”). These two effects cancelled each other out. Now, however, we have lower levels of pollution, so there is more global warming than global dimming.

This doesn’t make any sense, unless the theory is that low levels of pollution cause only warming, but high levels cause both warming and dimming. I’m not sure what sort of theory would predict that, but if that’s the theory, then emission-reduction programs like the Kyoto treaty will increase global warming — and I kind of doubt that’s what Dr. Wild meant. It would also mean that before the industrial revolution, when fossil fuel emmissions were (presumably) lower, that the temperature should have been higher. I think the opposite is actually true — the “Little Ice Age” ended around 1850 — and it’s certainly the opposite of that the global warming crowd claims.

I’m going to give Dr. Wild the benefit of the doubt here and assume the BBC mangled the quote or took it out of context. That happens all the time to scientists. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough information in the article to allow me to find Dr. Wild’s paper yet, so I can’t see what it really says.

TV and Society

Filed under: — Different River @ 12:08 pm

Does the behavior and culture depcited on television reflect reality, or is it the other way around? This study shows that it’s probably one or the other, and more likely TV affects reality:

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Sexually charged music, magazines, TV and movies push youngsters into intercourse at an earlier age, perhaps by acting as kind of virtual peer that tells them everyone else is doing it, a study said Monday.

“This is the first time we’ve shown that the more kids are exposed to sex in media the earlier they have sex,” said Jane Brown of the University of North Carolina, chief author of the report.

Previous research had been limited to television, said the study which looked at 1,017 adolescents when they were aged 12 to 14 and again two years later. They were checked on their exposure during the two years to 264 items — movies, TV shows, music and magazines — which were analyzed for their sexual content.

In general it found that the highest exposure levels led to more sexual activity, with white teens in the group 2.2 times more likely to have had intercourse at ages 14 to 16 than similar youngsters who had the least exposure.

Most people who produce violent/sexual/offensive TV like to claim that there is no evidence that TV affects behavior. Now, there is.

Still, however, I like Michael Medved‘s argument against that claim: That is, if TV doesn’t affect behavior, then TV networks and stations owe their advertisers a 100% refund for every commercial ever run on TV.

San Francisco Condemns the Catholic Church

It was just a couple of weeks ago that the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a resolution officially condemning “Christian fundamentalist[s]“, in what appears to me to be a blatant violation of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Epperson v. Arkansas (1968) — that “The First Amendment mandates governmental neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion.”

Now, it turns out that 10 days before that, they took it upon themselves to condemn the Catholic Church, as well — and to tell them to change their religious beliefs, and to tell local Catholics to “defy” (their word!) the Vatican:

Resolution urging Cardinal William Levada, in his capacity has head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican, to withdraw his discriminatory and defamatory directive that Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of San Francisco stop placing children in need of adoption with homosexual households.

WHEREAS, It is a insult to all San Franciscans when a foreign country, like the Vatican, meddles with and attempts to negatively influence this great City’s existing and established customs and traditions such as the right of same-sex couples to adopt and care for children in need; and

WHEREAS, Cardinal Levada is a decidedly unqualified representative of his former home city, and of the people of San Francisco and the values they hold dear; and

WHEREAS, The Board of Supervisors urges Archbishop Niederauer and the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of San Francisco to defy all discriminatory directives of Cardinal Levada; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the Board of Supervisors urges Cardinal William Levada, in his capacity as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican (formerly known as Holy Office of the Inquisition), to withdraw his discriminatory and defamatory directive that Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of San Francisco stop placing children in need of adoption with homosexual households.

Now, put aside your opinions on adoption for the moment, and take this as a pure First Amendment issue. Since when does the government have the right to condemn a specific religion, and to direct its citizens to “defy” their religious leaders?

Eugene Volokh suggests that the government:

… is quite entitled to express its views … and to condemn groups that, in its view, express “hateful” ideas.

But it seems to me that the right rule is that government officials must be able to comment on religious groups when their actions touch on secular matters, for instance arguing that terrorism is antithetical to the proper understanding of Islam, or that the Catholic Church’s views on adoption by homosexual couples are wrong.

In a rare [for him] oversight, he seems to miss the distinction between “government officials … comment[ing]” and an official resolution passed by an official governmental body. He also seems to miss the Supreme Court’s clear language in Epperson v. Arkansas (1968) — that “The First Amendment mandates governmental neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion.” This proclamation clearly violated that neutrality.

Clayton Cramer noted the non-neutrality by pointing out what would happen in the reverse case:

I guess San Francisco county government is free to express their opinion — although I would expect if the Butte, Montana city government passed a resolution praising the Southern Baptist Church, the ACLU would be looking through the precedents, looking for some way to turn this into an establishment of religion clause violation.

Frankly, I kind of hope that Butte, Montana, or some other place, does just that, just to prove the point.

One of the commenters on Volokh’s blog adds:

I think the Vatican would revoke the City’s right to use the name of one of their saints.

This might also present a solution to the banning of stuffed rabbits in St. Paul, Minnesota, on the theory that they are offensive to non-Christians.

And Dave Hardy, also commenting there, adds this (obvious?) point:

I suppose that, in light of the Mohammed cartoon affair, it is now mandatory that Catholics riot and break things and kill people in order to get a little respect?

The blatant religious discrimination only seems more blatant when you note the obvious fact that the San Francisco Board of Supervisors would never condemn an Islamic organization on such terms. It’s not that Islam is pro-gay — after all, in Islamic Iran, gays are publicly executed by hanging on the orders of Islamic courts.

No, the difference is, radical Islamicists are opposed to the United States in a way that the Catholic Church and Christian fundamentalists are not — and that gives the Islamicists immunity from criticism in San Francisco.

UPDATES:

  • The vote for the anti-Catholic resolution was unanimous. There was not one member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors who thought it inappropriate for the government to condemn a religion.
  • The Catholic League is suing, claiming “that the First Amendment ‘forbids an official purpose to disapprove of a particular religion, religious beliefs or of religion in general.’” Thanks to Crescat Sententia for the pointer

April 4, 2006

What Kind of Lesson Does This Teach?

Filed under: — Different River @ 6:14 pm

What kind of lesson does this teach?

Students at Shaw Heights Middle School [in Westminster, Colorado] are no longer allowed to wear anything that’s patriotic, including camouflage pants, because they have become a political symbol for a version of patriotism.
..
Myla Shepherd, the principal, said that tensions over the immigration issue were apparent when more than 20 students came to school wearing camouflage jackets and pants, apparently to show what they call their patriotism and American pride.

“We started seeing name calling,” Shepherd said. “Safety is my first concern so I’m going to do things to keep us from getting to a point where anybody is hurt or being suspended for fighting.”

So the lesson taught by the school is: if you threaten and name-call, you get what you want. In other words, threats and intimidation have the respect of those in authority. Peaceful statements expressed silently on clothing do not.

So if you want to get your message across, don’t express your opinion peacefully and respectfully. Just threaten the safety of anyone who disagrees with you. That’s the more appropriate approach, according to the Principal Myla Shepherd.

That’s the lesson being taught in our public schools. And also that patriotism is wrong, or at least something to be kept in the closet. (Literally, since we’re talking about clothes here!)

I wonder what principle of the education establishment would be violated if they taught that name-calling is wrong, that threatening violence is wrong, that one should respect those with other points of view, and that everyone has the right to peacefully express opinions on the issues of the day. Never mind the view that American democracy might be a good thing — that’s been verboten in American schools for a long time.

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